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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

NICE service to Jones Beach is worth saving

Glen Cove ferry riders on Sept. 1, 2017.

Glen Cove ferry riders on Sept. 1, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

A decision by Nassau Inter-County Express to cut nighttime summer bus runs from concerts at Jones Beach to Freeport and Hicksville isn't very, um, NICE.

And Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano thinks so, too. "We . . . have had discussions with NICE Bus concerning continuation of the service," Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin wrote in an email Wednesday.

"NICE Bus says ridership is slim," Nevin continued. "I believe this was a special service the MTA discontinued yet NICE tried to save. It just didn't have ridership from what we're told."

In announcing the cut, NICE called the nighttime concert bus service "inefficient." A spokesman said the route attracted only "several hundred" patrons.

Another issue: NICE had to keep bus drivers waiting, sometimes on overtime, for patrons to leave late-ending concerts.

Both reasons are legit.

But surely there must be some way to turn this bus around.

In addition to cutting the nighttime return service, NICE is eliminating the N87 route, which ran between the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station and Jones Beach during the summer. It is keeping the N88, which runs between Jones Beach and Freeport. The last bus on that route leaves the beach at 9 p.m.

A seamless ride via public transportation to Jones Beach, one of Long Island's many jewels, is a desirable thing. A smart one, even, for concert patrons with no cars, or with cars they'd like to leave at home.

NICE thought so when it re-established the service in 2012, after assuming management of Nassau's bus system.

Did ridership from concerts increase or decrease between then and now? Are private car services, such as Uber, pulling potential riders away? Is there a way to secure funding to resuscitate the nighttime concert service next year?

And how will the cuts impact concertgoers who can still can use NICE to get there during the day, but can't rely on that NICE ride back?

Perhaps Nassau's legislature can get answers to such questions.

Just last week, Nassau increased its subsidy to NICE by $1.5 million, and moved $3.8 million in state capital dollars to bus operating funds.

This was done to help NICE close a multimillion-dollar budget gap, and mitigate further service cuts.

A NICE spokesman said Wednesday, however, that a decision to make the cost-cutting move -- which will save the company $16,000 a year -- was made months ago.

The company wants to concentrate on serving riders on its regular routes, and the Jones Beach nighttime concert service and other cuts, presumably, could help mitigate a fare increase.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) and other lawmakers say they are worried that NICE -- as some predicted back when the county turned management of county bus service over to private operators -- will continue to have financial challenges.

Nassau, which severely trimmed its contribution to the bus service in past years in an attempt to curb the county's own costs, did the right thing by increasing its payment this year.

The county needs good bus service to get workers to jobs, students to colleges and residents who don't drive to doctors' appointments and shopping.

It's important that Nassau, and by extension NICE, succeed at the task.

Still, there's got to be a way to make those nighttime concert buses to Jones Beach work. Would more advertising work? Better round-trip ticket pricing to fill buses going both ways? A subsidy from promoters?

It may be too late to restore service this summer. But it's early enough to find some workable solution for next year.

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